Think about Peace Campaigning, and you probably think of the Iraq war. Think back a few decades, and one movement above all will probably come to mind: the anti-Nuclear movement, characterised by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, of CND. Thousands of people, often risking arrest at military bases, and taking part in marches through London during the time of the cold war.
Move forwards to today, and we see a major shift in focus on which arms we want to get rid of. CND still exists, and does a stalwart job of opposing replacement of the Trident Nuclear Warhead system which remains in Britain’s control. But now people are taking more and more action against what are often referred to as “Conventional Weapons”. Why?
Nuclear Weapons will always have a big pull on the emotional heart-strings. Their capacity to bring about an apocalyptic end of human-kind is well documented, and still very much a threat. But look at the statistics: Wikipedia states “The bombs killed as many as 140,000 people in Hiroshima and 80,000 in Nagasaki by the end of 1945, roughly half on the days of the bombings.” Compare that to the million Rwandans killed with little more than knives, blunt objects and a very small cache of firearms. The fact is, the last 70 years have shown us what “Conventional Weapons” are capable of.
Yes, we’ve seen the gassing of the curds, the nuking of two cities and the use of disease in warfare. But what killed many times more people have been guns, bullets and various other forms of straightforward explosives. Nuclear Weapons might be capable of greater damage, but Conventional Weapons are actively doing vastly more. Focusing on Nuclear Weapons, however, lets the creators of conventional weapons off the hook, despite the death and destruction they are intrinsically part-responsible for.
In a sense, the obsession with Nuclear Weapons took people’s eyes off the real and present threat of other weapons. Weapons like those BAE is intrinsically tied up in. Experts on conflicts around the world will tell you that the proliferation of small arms, those guns which a single person can easily wield, are what make wars outside the developed world so very deadly. Mugabe has no need for a nuclear war-head in repressing the people of Zimbabwe, for instance.
In campaigning against conventional weapons, their distribution and proliferation, we will make a real impact. These might be the weapons which our army uses in Iraq, but all too easily they become the weapons used on our streets.
Perhaps the most galling of arms company examples I can give is Heckler and Koch. A small arms company, and makers of many well known hand weapons, their main UK warehouse is located on an industrial estate in Nottingham, a UK gun-crime hotspot. Next door is a church. Last year, it hosted the funeral of a high profile gun-crime victim. The weapon used could easily have passed through that very warehouse at sometime in the past.
Of course, BAE’s weapons systems aren’t the kind that falls into the hands of local gangs. But they are the kind that fall into the hands of thugs on a very different scale. Indonesia, for instance, or the human rights nightmare that is Saudi Arabia. The question must therefore remain, if we are to actively reduce the number of conflict deaths occuring across the world, to which weapons are our efforts best addressed. The anti-nuclear campaigns of the 60’s were right that Nuclear Weapons are capable of far greater damage. But right now, people are being killed by non-nuclear weapons, and the time to act against them is clearly now.
The Author, Graham Martin, campaigns on a range of issues for a more just world, including the Arms Trade, Palestine and Climate Change. He writes an opinion blog at least times a week called “Graham’s Grumbles“.